The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

Rowan thinks her new nannying job in a remote part of Scotland is perfect, but she soon learns that things are too good to be true.

I was wary going into this book for a few reasons:

  1. I’d heard a lot of complaints about the end.
  2. Ruth Ware in general is hit or miss for me.
  3. I’d heard that this is a retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, which I’ve read twice, still can’t remember a thing about, and found excruciatingly boring and forgettable after both reads.

Still, I was determined to read, and so I began. Immediately, I was a bit put off by the fact that this novel is basically meant to be the narrator’s letter to a lawyer. I don’t like novels that are in letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, text conversations, interviews, etc. And of course, since all but the first and last few pages of this 336-page book make up a single “letter,” mostly told in regular prose but with occasional breaks to plead with the lawyer, it’s not in the least bit believable. However, since I’d learned ahead of time that this was a retelling of a classic, and I already knew this was a frequent technique used in that style of classic, I decided to ignore my annoyance and keep going.

What follows is a fascinating story. I do admit, the jacket description is a bit misleading (the whole “left alone for weeks at a time” when the main story takes place over less than a week. But mostly, it was a fun mystery to unravel. Then you get to the end, the part everyone complains about. My thoughts, no spoilers:

  1. I wasn’t so bothered by the ending, because like the unbelievable letter format, many classics end with this exact same style.
  2. However, I feel that part of the end is a bit of a cop-out. One reason I dislike letter/diary/etc formats is that it’s hard to get the full story. Once the letter is done, you never find out what happens afterwards. So Ware circumvented this by adding a little extra. I would have preferred the end to remain ambiguous, or to never have had the letter format in the first place.
  3. On the other hand, I can see exactly why Ware chose to add the last little bit, and I did appreciate having answers, even if I think the story would have been more interesting with that final ambiguity.

Honestly, I don’t remember The Turn of the Screw well enough to know if this bookwas a good adaptation. My vague recollections tell me it didn’t read as a whole story, just as pieces that don’t go anywhere or add up to anything. And either way, The Turn of the Key was on balance a much better book, in my opinion. It was flawed, but definitely memorable and spooky and a fun read.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2019, Adult, Prose and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

  1. I gave her a chance on the use of italicized quotes, even though I normally hate them, with The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I think I might have to give this one a pass with the use of letters. Ugh. That’s one format that just doesn’t work for me in novels.


    • Amanda says:

      Literally the ONLY reason I could read through the letter format was because it was patterned on an old classic style I’ve read so many times. Most of the time, the “letter” isn’t even in evidence. You’ll go 50-100 pages without any reference to it, and then suddenly she’ll bring the narrative back to the letter recipient and talk to him directly. Ware mimicked the classic format so well that it didn’t bother me any more than the classics that use that format do. Still not my fave, though.


  2. kay says:

    I think that flawed but fun summarizes the book quite well! I personally enjoy the letter format, especially done this way, but it’s true it makes it hard to feel like you got the full story.


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